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Richard Milanovich, who as the longtime chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians was a major figure in creating California's multi-billion-dollar tribal casino gambling industry, died Sunday in Rancho Mirage.

Milanovich died at Eisenhower Medical Center after a long bout with cancer. He was 69.

"The influential Coachella Valley leader saw his tribe go from eating food out of government-issued cans in his youth to successfully fighting for the right to lease land in the 1950s and build casinos in the 1990s," a Desert Sun newspaper article said.

The Sun noted that during the past two decades, Milanovich's tribe had built two major casinos -- the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs and Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage.

Milanovich became a familiar figure to California politicians as the state negotiated compacts with casino-owning tribes.And he and other tribal leaders became major contributors to political campaigns.


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